Birches by Robert Frost : Aptness of the Title

       Birches :  Aptness of the Title

     Question : Discuss the aptness of the title “Birches” by  Robert Frost. 

       Answer : The title of the poem  “Birches” is quite apt and suggestive. Originally, the poem was called  “Swinging Birches”, a title that was inspired by Frost’s childhood experiences of swinging on birches, which was a popular game for children in rural areas of New England during that time.

     Birches are smooth barked, slander – branched forest trees. Robert Frost has used vivid imagery  to describe a natural scene and different appearances of birches in summer and winter. The focus remains on ‘birches’ as trees, the branches of which can go up and down in a swinging motion. 

     As the poem progresses we feel that birches in the poem have symbolic importance. Birches do not remain mere trees. The poet uses birches as central metaphor for the main theme of his poem. 

    He uses his imagination to bring out the symbolic meaning of  the poem. He moves from description to reflection.

    The branches of birches swing up and down. Going up in the air while birch swinging becomes a symbol of escaping from harsh realities of the world into the world of fancy. It is also a symbol of higher  human ideal and aspiration.  Whereas downward movement or coming back on the ground with the birch means accepting the harsh reality as it is and doing all earthly duties. 

    The desire for climbing up a tree and thus  “getting away from earth” is a kind of desire for an escape from life,  and this desire is felt by the speaker when he is 

         “weary of consideration./

        And life is too much like a pathless wood.”

       Here the poet has compared the difficulties and hardship of life to the difficulties of walking through a  “pathless wood” where one can easily lose one’s direction.

      But there is also the desire to  “come back” to earth and this desire is important. The speaker wants to get away from the struggles and stress of life  not by dying but by climbing a birch tree, tipping its branches towards heaven and then returning to earth. 

    The poet prudently wants to have it both ways. He would like to get away from earth and then get back to it –  

     “I’ d like to get away from earth awhile/ 

     And then come back to it and begin over. “

     The speaker wants to be able to return to the innocence and beauty of nature, to let nature refresh him and then to return to the everyday rigours of life earth. 

    The poet makes it clear that as in birch swinging, going up and coming down are both desirable. Man must attain a balance between his work on earth and his spiritual aspirations. 

     The poet has also used the “birch” trees to contemplate about the conflict between reality and imagination  – the contrary pulls between truth and imagination, earth and heaven, control and abandon and flight and return. For all this contemplation the “birches” seems to be an appropriate vehicle to describe his feelings, as well as to use it as the title of the  poem. 



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